More than 600 unmarked graves found at former school site in Saskatchewan | www.WDIO.com

More than 600 unmarked graves found at former school site in Saskatchewan

An Indigenous leader says the unmarked graves of up to 751 people have been found in Saskatchewan. An Indigenous leader says the unmarked graves of up to 751 people have been found in Saskatchewan. |  Photo: Courtesy: Cowessess First Nation

WDIO-TV
Updated: June 24, 2021 05:59 PM
Created: June 24, 2021 10:57 AM

Investigators have found more than 600 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school for Indigenous children in Saskatchewan.

The discovery that follows last month's report of 215 at another school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation said the unmarked graves are evenly spaced at a cemetery that was formerly managed by the Roman Catholic Church. Like the burials in Kamloops, Delorme emphasized that they are individual graves, not a mass grave.

"Over the past years the oral stories of our elders, of our survivors, and friends of our survivors have told the stories that knew these burials were here," Delorme said during a news conference Thursday.

"In 1960, there may have been marks on these graves. The Catholic Church representatives removed these headstones and today they are unmarked graves," he said.

The graves were found at the Marieval Indian Residential School, which operated from 1898 to 1997 where Cowessess is now located, about 87 miles east of Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan.

Delorme said the First Nation began its research on June 2. He said that there were 751 hits with an error rate of about 10 to 15 percent, but they know there are at least 600 unmarked graves. He said some of the graves may belong to adults.

"The recent story of the Kamloops residential school has triggered many in this country, and we knew this was going to trigger as well," Delorme said.

Florence Sparvier, who attended the Marieval school, said they were told at the school that they were heathens and didn't have souls.

"They were putting us down as a people so we learned how to not like what we were. And that has gone on...and it's still going on because we couldn't teach our people, our own families, how to look after themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually," Sparvier said.

"A lot of the pain that we see in our people right now comes from there," she said.

From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools, the majority of them run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, in a campaign to assimilate them into Canadian society.

The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages.

Delorme said he has been in communication with the federal government and local church officials, and that their investigation is continuing.

He said they plan to put markers on each gravesite and there will eventually be a monument. They are working to determine the names of those who are buried, but Delorme acknowledged that they may not be able to put a name on every marker.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story has been updated to correct the AP's initial misspelling of Chief Delorme's name.

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